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Can't get much better for Wings' Lebda

Wednesday, 12.31.2008 / 2:02 PM ET / Features
By Bradley Holland
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Can\'t get much better for Wings\' Lebda
CHICAGO -- It's all coming together for Brett Lebda.

At Thursday's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio), Lebda, a Red Wings' defenseman, will be playing in the NHL -- which few thought he would ever do -- in a regular-season, outdoor game --  which nobody ever expects to play in -- paired with his childhood hero -- which not even he would have believed possible.

Yes, good times.

Lebda's story, through one of the unlikeliest of NHL career paths, is one almost 25 years in the making. And it began in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, Ill.
 
For a good decade, into the early 1990s, one of the NHL's fiercest rivalries was the Red Wings vs. the Blackhawks. During the bulk of the run Lebda lived, ate and breathed all things Blackhawk.

 
"I went to probably a handful of games each year -- one of the earliest memories I have, it was the '91 All-Star Game, and it was right during the war, when Desert Storm started. I was listening to the (U.S.) anthem, and looking around. I can remember seeing grown men crying. I was getting goose bumps even as a little kid. It was so loud; I never really heard any stadium as loud as that one."
 
Hockey had a profound impact on Lebda, who played whenever he could and dreamed of playing like his heroes. And if you were a defenseman about Lebda's age anywhere near Chicago at that time, your hero was Chris Chelios.
 
"Chris was my favorite player growing up," Lebda said. "You always look to the best player on your favorite team, and right when I was really into hockey, he came to Chicago and that was huge. I was a defenseman myself, and I liked the way he competed and how you knew he loved the game.
 
"I grew up on a lake, and we had a cottage on a lake that we mostly spent the summers at and the winters, too. We plowed a rink and I remember just freezing. My feet would be just freezing, but I'd stay as long as I could. Then you go home, you throw your skates next to the fire, and for the next time, they're melted."
 
But rooting for the Hawks, skating on the pond and idolizing Chelios didn't guarantee an NHL career.

"Honestly, the thought never really crossed my mind," Lebda said of eventually making it to the NHL. "Well, obviously as a kid I kept taking necessary steps -- every kid wants to play in the NHL -- and then when I played for the (U.S.) U-18 team at 15, 16, then 17-years-old, I started thinking a little bit more, maybe I could.
 
"I went on to college (Notre Dame), never got drafted, and I wasn't really sure what was going to happen, what I was going to do, if I was going to apply for a job or what," he said. After our last college game, things started happening and it became more of a reality."
 
Signing with the Red Wings after four seasons at Notre Dame, Lebda spent parts of two seasons with the club's American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. He played 46 NHL games in 2005-06, and has been a full-timer since the start of the 2006-07 season.

"My first NHL game I scored my first NHL goal, my second NHL game I got my first assist, and then I got sent to the minors," he remembered. "My second year in the League I was up with the team full-time. I played pretty much all the games and I wasn't bouncing up and down. I think it was sometime during my second year that I said to myself, 'I'm on a really good team, probably one of the top teams in the NHL, and I'm playing a regular shift.' When I realized that, all of a sudden I felt that I could make a career of it."

Adding to his thrill was his defense partner for his first two seasons -- Chelios, his childhood idol.
It was a surreal experience when I was there and trying to make the team, skating with Chelios and all the rest of these (future) Hall of Famers. Then all of a sudden I'm not just seeing Chelios, we're starting the season paired together. And we kept being paired together over the next two years, every day. It was pretty exciting and I learned so much from him. - Brett Lebda
 
"It was a surreal experience when I was there and trying to make the team, skating with Chelios and all the rest of these (future) Hall of Famers," Lebda said. "Then all of a sudden I'm not just seeing Chelios, we're starting the season paired together. And we kept being paired together over the next two years, every day. It was pretty exciting and I learned so much from him."

On Dec. 27, Lebda and Chelios were reunited for the first time this season -- Chelios had been out with a broken leg for much of the season -- in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. If the two are paired during Thursday's Bridgestone Winter Classic, you'd have two Chicago natives paired on the Wrigley Field blue line in their hometown.
 
That sort of good fortune is not lost on Lebda, who can't wait to see how it all plays out.
 
"I think when it actually happens, when I step out for warm-ups, it'll settle in that much more," Lebda said. "It's a game I'm really looking forward to. Me and Chris have had long talks about it, the fact that it's such a marquee game. He's as excited as anyone.
 
"Seeing a guy like that who's seen everything in the sport, for him to get exited it makes me even more excited. I'm really looking forward. I can't wait for Jan. 1."




SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 77 17 49 -6 66
P. Datsyuk 63 26 39 12 65
T. Tatar 82 29 27 6 56
G. Nyquist 82 27 27 -11 54
J. Abdelkader 71 23 21 3 44
N. Kronwall 80 9 35 -4 44
R. Sheahan 79 13 23 -3 36
D. Helm 75 15 18 7 33
D. DeKeyser 80 2 29 11 31
S. Weiss 52 9 16 -2 25
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Howard 23 13 11 .910 2.44
P. Mrazek 16 9 2 .918 2.38

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